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Watkins to head Innovation Academy

June 19th, 2012 10:43 pm by Rick Wagner

KINGSPORT — Veteran Sullivan County educator Sandy Watkins will head the new grades 6-7 STEM platform school in Bloomingdale.

During a meeting Tuesday of the Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee’s governing board, Kingsport Superintendent Lyle Ailshie and Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie announced they have named Watkins principal of the science, technology, engineering and math school jointly operated by Kingsport City Schools and Sullivan County Schools.

It will serve grades 6-7 in the first year but grow into a grades 6-12 school. The initial classes will be evenly split 40 in each grade level from each system for a total of 160, chosen in random lotteries.

Of the initial 160 students chosen in a June 6 lottery, four city rising sixth-graders, six city rising seventh-graders, eight county rising sixth-graders, and eight county rising seventh-graders opted out by Monday’s deadline to accept or decline a slot. The board filled those 26 slots during the meeting with another random lottery, and project manager Brenda Barnicki said future empty slots will be filled by lottery, too.

While serving as STEM coordinator in Sullivan County, Watkins developed an elementary STEM curriculum and coordinated the STEM-enhanced programs at four of the system’s schools.

“It is my vision to implement a program at Innovation Academy that will stimulate the growth of STEM throughout the region,” Watkins said.

The academy, which will open Aug. 6, is the result of the city and county school systems winning $1 million in start-up funds for two years and East Tennessee State University winning $500,000 for two years to be an innovation hub for the school. Eastman Chemical Co., the Domtar paper mill and Wellmont Health System also are partners in the school, providing STEM professionals to visit the school and have job shadowing and internships.

The federal Race to the Top money for the school was awarded to Tennessee and is being administered by the Battelle Memorial Foundation.

The STEM school will be located in the former Brookside Elementary off John B. Dennis Bypass near the intersection of that road and Bloomingdale Pike.

“Ms. Watkins models collaboration in everything she does, and this will be a huge part of the success of the Innovation Academy,” Yennie said. “I am confident that her curricular expertise as well as her ability to engage teachers and students in an exciting learning experience will provide the leadership necessary to launch the platform school. Ms. Watkins also brings a strong connection with the STEM hub at ETSU, which will benefit the working relationship and strong connection to the statewide STEM network.”

In Watkins’ 32 years in Sullivan County schools, she has also served as a science instructional specialist for grades K-12, secondary language arts specialist, and as an elementary and middle school classroom teacher at Bluff City Elementary and Bluff City Middle. She also taught at Holston Valley Middle School and Mary Hughes School, a K-8 school.

She is married and has two sons. One teaches second grade at Bluff City Elementary, and the other will be a sophomore at Sullivan East High School.

Watkins, whose late father was former county superintendent Paul Nelson, also is an adjunct teacher at ETSU and a former adjunct at Virginia Intermont College at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Watkins has a bachelor of arts degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in education with endorsements in science and administration, all at ETSU.

“I am excited about Ms. Watkins becoming the first principal of Innovation Academy,” Ailshie said. “I have been very impressed with her knowledge and enthusiastic personality displayed throughout the selection process. We now have the school’s leader in place, which is another milestone in the creation of the new school. Ms. Watkins and the school’s teachers can now accelerate the work necessary to welcome students in August. I know she will do an excellent job and look forward to working with her.”

Yennie said the school’s teachers — four hired by the city and four by the county — may be announced by week’s end. Officials said the city has chosen its four teachers, but the county still has to pare down a group of six finalists.

On other matters, the Innovation Academy board voted 6-0 with three absent to approve the payment of invoices, marking the first time the board took a vote rather than make decisions by consensus as is its usual practice. Each system is spending just more than $500,000 next school year in operational expenses, not part of the start-up federal money.

Also, the board decided that Watkins will have the authority to approve purchase orders for furnishings, lab equipment, iPads, computers and other budgeted items before the school opens Aug. 6.

The board also looked at a tentative calendar for the 2012-13 school year and decided that students would have a fall break Nov. 19-23, winter break starting Dec. 24, and return to school Jan. 3, with spring break April 1-5 and the last day of school half a day May 23. Barnicki said the school day likely would start about 7:30 a.m.

In addition, the board decided to set a standing monthly meeting at 4 p.m. each fourth Tuesday of the month at the school, the first one being July 24. However, the board also set a special meeting for 3:30 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 10, in the Tennessee Room of the KCS administrative support center downtown.

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